I think I have figured out part of this mystery. Living in the U.S., it can be difficult to find “Asian” grocery. I put quotations around Asian only because 1) it is a social construct 2) I only mean Eastern and Southeast Asia 3) some of these stuffs aren’t even from Asia, such as Marmite and coconut water. A decade earlier, it would be a challenge to find some of these exotic goods, and the markup on Amazon would defeat the purpose of these cheap ingredients. I used to rely on small unnamed local Asian grocers to fulfill some of these needs, while having “contraband” being brought in from elsewhere. These all changes with the rise of “Asian” supermarkets. Many of these are ethnical based (Korean/Taiwanese/Chinese/Vietnamese/Filipino), but they all carry similar items, all being supplied by the same importers and producers. Of these, H-Mart, the extremely popular Korean American supermarket, is my go-to. Their produce looks better and nicer, and I can find everything I need there. I shop so often at H-Mart that I even have their loyalty card. When I moved to Oregon, I was disappointed to know that there are none near me, which is odd considering the large concentration of Asian Americans on the west coast, especially Beaverton. Upon visiting the H-mart in Tigard, I learn that there are two different entities of H-mart. There are the real, “official” H-marts, and there is a second group of “unofficial” H-marts, which I believe are franchisees. They have different websites, each with a different list of outlets. Not only that, none of the locations in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii is listed on the “official” website, and these unofficial H-marts have their own loyalty program.
The truth is, there is a H-Mart in Beaverton (very close to me), but it is only a furniture shop. Upon checking the franchise list, there is also a G-Mart in Beaverton and is a grocery shop! I believe that the reason this shop is named G-Mart is because there is already another convenient shop named H-Mart in Beaverton, so they use G to replace H. In fact, G-Mart carries similar items compared to H-Mart at the same prices (they print out brochures of the price cut from the H-Mart weekly) and even the shopping carts have the H-Mart logo. The other thing that this G-Mart have in common with all Asian grocery shop is that they all contain a small food court, or in this case, Always Spring Restaurant.
Always Spring restaurant is located on the second floor of G-Mart, which almost seems impossible because G-Mart looks like a sketchy single-story building. But head to the second floor and I’m greeted by a small Korean eatery that is always packed. I highly advise arriving 15-30 minutes before normal lunch hours, so you get a seat and fast service. The menu is long, and there is a wall containing pictures for each dish if you are unfamiliar with Korean cuisine. I have had the soon tofu and it was delicious. This time, we have the beef bulgogi, spicy pork dwaeji bulgolgi and the Kimchi pancake. A Korean lady is quick to serve tea and take our order before shuffling back into the kitchen; later, two young men who seem to be working as full-time servers took over the front of the restaurant. We were the only other table when we sat down, but the place is packed before our dishes arrived.
An indicator of a good Korean restaurant is the quality and generosity of the banchan. (side dishes) These are complimentary, and complementary to the entree. Banchan are an art onto themselves, and serving good banchan indicates a high level of cooking ability. Always Springs delivers on that front, with 8 side dishes and most of them are very tasty. I, on the other hand, put all my focus onto the main entree. The beef bulgogi is one of the best bulgolgi I have had in a very long time. It is sprinkled with both green and caramelized onion, both gives umami flavors to the tender, juicy and Smokey beef. Moreover, the portion is not small. The spicy pork bulgolgi might not be my favorite Korean pork cut (that goes to Samgyeopsal, or pork belly) but these pork slices are just as good as the beef counterparts. I like the difference in heat between the two, but if I must choose, I would only get the beef bulgogi. I always order kimchi pancake if there is enough interest around the table, but they always feel like missing an oomph to them. These kimchi pancakes are fine, but I wouldn’t sweat on trying them here. Maybe pancakes are just not that tasty, especially when sitting next to amazing barbecue meat.
Personally, I really enjoy Always Spring. The prices are very reasonable, the service is good (enough), and it is a hole in the wall. I’m excited to try more dishes on the menu, and this has been elevated to the top of my restaurants in Portland suburbs. The city of Beaverton is blessed with highly ranked Korean and Japanese restaurants, and I’m eager to see if Always Spring would stand against other “real” joints. You know what, if this Korean restaurant doesn’t make the cut, that would mean the other eateries are even better. That would be paradise!
Visited: January 4, 2020 for lunch at 12pm
Address: 3975 SW 114th Ave in G-Mart